Hollywood’s portrayal of mental illness is more often a caricature or embellishment than a reflection of reality. There are some movies, however, that get it right. More accurate portrayals of mental health in Hollywood can provide better understanding, as well as help to break the stigma of mental health.
Here are a few movies with accurate portrayals of mental illness, selected by Maggie Ann, a licensed social worker. With over 15 years of experience, Maggie Ann’s has worked in settings including outpatient treatment, hospitals, mobile crisis, the criminal justice system, schools, and adult residential settings.
Between movies, you can listen to our May AE Team playlists, themed for Mental Health Awareness Month.
Please check all movies prior to viewing for any potential triggers or sensitive topics.
Movies That Got Mental Illness Right
Summary: Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions — led by Joy (Amy Poehler) — try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust.
“An amazing movie about emotions that every parent should watch.” Maggie Ann also recommends this movie to individuals who have a hard time processing emotions.
A Beautiful Mind
Summary: A human drama inspired by events in the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., and in part based on the biography “A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar. From the heights of notoriety to the depths of depravity, John Forbes Nash Jr. experienced it all. A mathematical genius, he made an astonishing discovery early in his career and stood on the brink of international acclaim. But the handsome and arrogant Nash soon found himself on a painful and harrowing journey of self-discovery.
Silver Linings Playbook
Summary: After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange.
“Bradley Cooper’s character is amazing as a bipolar portrayal,” Maggie Ann said.
Summary: A troubled widow (Essie Davis) discovers that her son is telling the truth about a monster that entered their home through the pages of a children’s book.
According to Maggie Ann The Babadook “is amazing for depression and grief.”
Summary: Set in the changing world of the late 1960s, “Girl, Interrupted” is the searing true story of Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a young woman who finds herself at a renowned mental institution for troubled young women, where she must choose between the world of people who belong on the inside — like the seductive and dangerous Lisa (Angelina Jolie) — or the often difficult world of reality on the outside.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Summary: When Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) gets transferred for evaluation from a prison farm to a mental institution, he assumes it will be a less restrictive environment. But the martinet Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) runs the psychiatric ward with an iron fist, keeping her patients cowed through abuse, medication and sessions of electroconvulsive therapy. The battle of wills between the rebellious McMurphy and the inflexible Ratched soon affects all the ward’s patients.
Summary: After struggling with depression in a mental hospital, Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams) decides he wants to become a doctor. He enrolls at Virginia Medical University but is disillusioned by the school’s clinical perspective on patient care. With the aid of a wealthy friend, Adams opens his own medical clinic for those without insurance. He forms a deep bond with fellow medical student Carin Fisher (Monica Potter) before a tragedy causes Adams to re-evaluate his approach.
Summary: Los Angeles columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) has reached an impasse in his life. His marriage is on the rocks, and he’s disillusioned with his job. Then, while wandering through L.A.’s Skid Row, he spots a homeless man (Jamie Foxx) playing a two-stringed violin with a virtuoso’s skill. Lopez initially thinks of the man, named Nathaniel Ayers, as just a story idea. But as he begins to unravel the mystery of Ayers’ strange fate, Lopez realizes that a change is happening within himself.
Summary: The implausible escape of a brilliant murderess brings U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) to Ashecliffe Hospital, a fortress-like insane asylum located on a remote, windswept island. The woman appears to have vanished from a locked room, and there are hints of terrible deeds committed within the hospital walls. As the investigation deepens, Teddy realizes he will have to confront his own dark fears if he hopes to make it off the island alive.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Summary: Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a travel writer/publisher who gives up her beloved freedom and bohemian lifestyle to have a child with her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly). Pregnancy does not seem to agree with Eva, but what’s worse, when she does give birth to a baby boy named Kevin, she can’t seem to bond with him. When Kevin grows from a fussy, demanding toddler (Rocky Duer) into a sociopathic teen (Ezra Miller), Eva is forced to deal with the aftermath of her son’s horrific act.
Summary: Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose passion for the dance rules every facet of her life. When the company’s artistic director decides to replace his prima ballerina for their opening production of “Swan Lake,” Nina is his first choice. She has competition in newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) however. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, Lily personifies the Black Swan. As rivalry between the two dancers transforms into a twisted friendship, Nina’s dark side begins to emerge.
Maggie Ann said “Black Swan is an amazing movie about a first psychotic break.”
Summary: Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University. When words begin to escape her and she starts becoming lost on her daily jogs, Alice must come face-to-face with a devastating diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As the once-vibrant woman struggles to hang on to her sense of self for as long as possible, Alice’s three grown children must watch helplessly as their mother disappears more and more with each passing day.
Summary: Two high school students from opposite ends of the social spectrum fall for each other in this teen drama. Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst), the troubled daughter of a wealthy congressman, attends a public school in the upscale community of Pacific Palisades. As an act of defiance, she makes a play for the attentions of Carlos Nuñez (Jay Hernandez), a straight-A student who takes a two-hour bus ride to attend Nicole’s school. Her self-destructive tendencies threaten his ambitions.
Descriptions from RottenTomatoes.com